Lawyer suspended for insulting Vicki Belo on Facebook
Limiting your Facebook post to friends only will not make you escape from any possible repercussions.
This after the Supreme Court suspended for one year Atty. Roberto “Argee” C. Guevarra for insulting Dr. Victoria “Vicki” Belo-Henares, a popular doctor among showbiz personalities.
In its 13-page decision, the high court through Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe said Guevarra violated the Code of Professional Responsibility. Guevarra was sternly warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.
Guevarra was the lawyer of a certain Josefina Norcio who filed criminal cases against complainant Belo-Henares for an allegedly botched surgical procedure on her buttocks in 2002 and 2005. In 2009, he wrote a series of posts on his Facebook account attacking Belo-Henares.
Guevarra wrote, among others, that complainant “will go down in Medical History as a QUACK DOCTOR!!! QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK.” In another post, he said “out to get Puwetic Justice here!” and that he was thinking “how the payola machinery of vicki belo killed the news of a picket demonstration in front of the Belo clinic.”
Guevarra also posted that he will paralyze the operations of all of Belo-Henares’ clinics “and seek out her patients and customers to boycott her;” that “with all the kababuyan (mess) of the Belo clinic, its money-making machines, dapat (they should) convert them into public health clinics!!! instead of pandering to the vanities of those who want to look like Dra. Belo;” and that “[T]hey perform plastic surgery procedures “without licensed and trained doctors, they nearly killed a client of mine, medical malpractice, use of banned substances/fillers on patients.”
“A punctilious scrutiny of the Facebook remarks complained of disclosed that they were ostensibly made with malice tending to insult and tarnish the reputation of complainant and her clinic,” said the court.
“Calling complainant a ‘quack doctor, ‘Reyna ng Kaplastikan,’ ‘Reyna ng Payola,’ and ‘Reyna ng Kapalpakan,’ and insinuating that she has been bribing people to destroy respondent smacks of bad faith and reveals an intention to besmirch the name and reputation of complainant, as well as Belo Medical Group Inc. (BMGI),” the high court said.
The court found that Guevarra also ascribed criminal negligence to the Belo-Henares and BMGI by posting on his Facebook account that complainant disfigured (“binaboy”) his client Norcio, labeling BMGI a “Frankenstein Factory” and calling out a boycott of BMGI’s services—all these despite the pendency of the criminal cases that Norcio had already filed against Belo-Henares.
“By posting the subject remarks on Facebook directed at complainant and BMGI, respondent disregarded the fact that, as a lawyer, he is bound to observe proper decorum at all times, be it in his public or private life,” lamented the court. “Instead, he acted inappropriately and rudely; he used words unbecoming of an officer of the law, and conducted himself in an aggressive way by hurling insults and maligning complainant’s and BMGI’s reputation.”
The court noted that Guevarra never denied that he posted the purportedly vulgar and obscene remarks on complainant and BMGI on his Facebook account, alleging in his defense that his right to privacy was violated by complainant when she accessed his Facebook posts since the same were “private remarks” on his “private account” that could only be viewed by his circle of friends.
Finding Guevarra’s defense untenable, the high court ruled that before one can have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her online social networking activity such as Facebook, it is necessary that said user first manifests the intention to keep certain posts private, through the employment of measures to prevent access thereto or to limit its visibility.
“In other words, utilization of these privacy tools is the manifestation, in the cyber world, of the user’s invocation of his or her right to privacy,” the court added.
The high court found, however, that Guevarra failed to offer evidence that he utilized any of the privacy tools or features of Facebook available to him to protect his posts or that he restricted its privacy to a select few.
The court added that even if it were to accept Guevarra’s allegation that his posts were limited to or viewable by his “Friends” only, “restricting the privacy of one’s Facebook posts to ‘Friends’ does not guarantee absolute protection from the prying eyes of another user who does not belong to one’s circle of friends. The user’s own Facebook friend can share said content or tag his or her own Facebook friend thereto, regardless of whether the user tagged by the latter is Facebook friends or not with the former.”
The court likewise rejected Guevarra’s argument that the subject remarks were written in the exercise of his freedom of speech and expression, stressing that the constitutional right of freedom of expression may not be availed of to broadcast lies or half-truths, insult others, destroy their name or reputation or bring them into disrepute.
When contacted, Guevarra told INQUIRER.net he has yet to read the decision by the Supreme Court. RAM